Tag Archives: class sizes

South Kitsap: Teachers strike, here’s what could have happened

South Kitsap schools appear to have dodged a bullet. Sorry kids, probably no extended summer vacation for you.

The South Kitsap School District and its teachers’ union, which earlier this week agreed to strike over class sizes if needs be, reached a tentative agreement on a three-year contract late Friday.

Today, as I sat in the district office, summoned for a 1:15 p.m. press conference with SK Superintendent Michelle Reid, I thought things could have gone either way. So I researched what might have happened if the district and the South Kitsap Education Association had not reached an agreement, given the teachers’ union vote to strike earlier this week if a contract were not approved.

Districts can seek a court order forcing teachers back to work, as happened in the 2011 Tacoma teachers’ strike, I found.

A 2006 opinion issued by then-Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna said state and local public employees, including teachers, have no legally protected right to strike.

State statutes establish no specific penalties against striking teachers; that’s up to the judge. Teachers, as in the Tacoma strike, have defied court orders.

During a 2009 Kent strike, teachers faced the threat of a $200 per day court imposed fine, but a resolution was reached before penalties were imposed.

Since 1972, court injunctions have been granted in 28 of 34 cases in which they were sought to end strikes, according to an analysis of data from the state’s Public Employment Relations Commission by the Freedom Foundation. In one case, union officials were jailed.

The Freedom Foundation is a conservative think tank promoting government accountability.

In Kitsap County, there have been six strikes or near strikes over the years, two involving court injunctions. South Kitsap was involved in one near strike in 1975.

In 1974, Central Kitsap teachers had planned a one-day walkout before the contract was resolved. In 1975 in South Kitsap, there was a lockout of teachers by the district administration, delaying the start of school that year by three days.

In 1977, Bainbridge Island School District was one of eight districts statewide with impending strikes. Bainbridge teachers defied a court injunction during the four-day strike.

In 1978, Central Kitsap School District administrators hired replacement teachers, and school continued during a five-day strike, with no injunction.

North Kitsap teachers were on strike for five days in 1986; there was no court action.

The longest strike in Kitsap’s history was in 1994 in Bremerton School District. The district sought an injunction, which teachers voted to defy. An agreement was reached, however, before a court order was approved.

South Kitsap teachers had support from students, who posted their thoughts via Twitter, at #wearenotsardines.

By 7 p.m., I was starting to feel like I was on Pope-watch. Would it be gray smoke or white? The mood of people on both sides of the bargaining table was hard to read, poker faces all. But as the day wore on, I thought, “If they were really at an impasse, they all would have gone home.”

And sure enough, shortly after 7 p.m., a joyful burst of applause erupted from one of the district office conference rooms, where bargaining had been going on, hot and heavy, since 8 a.m.

The SKEA membership has yet to ratify the contract, but union President John Richardson expressed satisfaction in the agreement reached with concession on both sides.

(If you want the details of what those concessions are, you can read my story on the Kitsap Sun’s website.)

“We are happy to finally have a tentative agreement that makes real progress toward smaller class sizes,” Richardson said. “We thank the community for their support and look forward to our meeting on Tuesday.”

South Kitsap: Is your child’s class on the “watch list?”

With the start of school less than two weeks away, administrators are keeping a close eye on class sizes and making adjustments to balance out the number of children in classrooms at each grade level.

A class size “watch list” was the hot topic of discussion at last night’s school board meeting. The list, below and also available on South Kitsap School District’s website, shows grade levels and sections at each school that are overcrowded by standards of the local teachers’ union, the South Kitsap Educations Association. Some math and science classes at the high school show up to 40 students per section. Other areas of particular concern are East Port Orchard Elementary, where more than half the classes are near or at maximum capacity, and John Sedgwick Junior High, where most science and math classes are near, at or above the max. Take a look at the list to see where your child’s school and grade level stands.

The watch list is in flux, as administrators try to balance class sizes, but South Kitsap is up against challenging budget constraints, entering the new school year with the largest reduction in force in recent memory.

Sixty-one teaching positions were slated for elimination in May. The district got some enhanced funding from the state and made other adjustments, enabling some positions to be restored. (And the original RIF counted four positions twice.) The RIF now stands at 39.5 FTE teachers, according to finance director Sandy Rotella (although the budget document reviewed at last night’s meeting says 42.8 positions). Certificated staffing (teachers) will drop from 617 last year to 575 this school year, for a projected enrollment of 9,086 students, according to the posted budget. So some increase in class sizes is inevitable, especially at the secondary level, where classes have previously been staffed more generously than the teachers’ contract calls for.

The teachers’ union is in the midst of tense negotiations. Members are supposed to vote on a contract on Monday. But class sizes have become a sticking point. At last night’s meeting Superintendent Michelle Reid outlined the district’s dilemma when it comes to balancing class sizes and teachers’ pay. Eighty-five percent of the district’s budget is for personnel, said Reid, so one way or another the number of people times the amount they are paid must equal 85 percent of revenues. The district and the union must strike a balance between more teachers and higher pay, Reid said.

There is some funding that may be allocated for additional positions, but the district is proceeding cautiously, she mentioned.

Another aspect of the contract that bears directly on students is language governing class sizes. The current contract lists “preferred” and “maximum” average class sizes at each grade level. Here it is, with preferred and max listed in that order (I’ve only listed academic classes; PE allows more per section at each level, which is detailed on the watch list.)
K-3rd: 1:24; 1:25
4th: 1:28; 1:29
5th-6th: 1:30; 1:31

“Split” classes that combine two or more elementary grade levels
1-3: 1:22; 1:24
4-5: 1:25; 1:27
5-6: 1:28; 1:30

7-9: 1:33; 1:35
10-12: 1:35; 1:37

Teachers receive monetary compensation for each class with students over the maximum, but without exception, all would prefer to skip the bonus, said John Richardson, union president.

According to union spokeswoman Judy Arbogast, teachers expect up to 3 additional students per class in many classes at the junior high and secondary levels. While one or two students here and there may not sound like much, one secondary teacher, commenting on blog post by the superintendent put it this way:

In the past few years, my class sizes have risen from about 28 to about 35 students per class. With average class sizes of 35, I cannot meet the needs of every student, no matter how hard I try. I want to give individualized feedback on student work, but struggle when there are just too many essays to grade or projects to evaluate.

The challenges of more students in each class and a higher workload outside the school day are some of what is driving good, competent teachers out of the profession. I know of several colleagues who have left SK in the past years (many of their positions have NOT been filled) and our department and school are poorer without them.

Karen Little a counselor at John Sedgwick Junior High School, said the concept of average class sizes is misleading, because some like special education are as low as 12, pushing the allowed average maximum up well above 30 students. Tasked with assigning students to classes, Little is struggling.

“I feel like I’m playing chess and somebody’s given me a quarter of a board, and I can’t move anything” Little said.

Teachers also are concerned about increased class sizes in split classrooms. New learning standards and high stakes tests require focused instruction, making it hard for teachers to devote adequate time to students at each grade level. “It’s impossible for me to teach the entire curriculum in half the time,” said Kim Waterman, who teaches a 5-6 split. “It’s impossible to do a really good job by those kids. And that bothers me.”

Chris Lemke noted that the number of students in elementary schools varies. Some schools are crowded; others are below capacity. Lemke said the board recently began talking about ways to even out the distribution, either by moving students to a different school or re-drawing district boundaries. If any of that happens, Lemke said, it won’t happen quickly.

Reporter Steve Gardner is working on a story about how students are assigned to classes. It’s set to run Tuesday.

Class Size Watch List